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Standing up for Victims of Terror

The use of litigation in the United States Federal Court system is an essential tool in standing up for victims of terror.  While governments negotiate, victims can use the federal court system to not only seek monetary damages but also to give victims and their families voice against state sponsors of terrorism.

Victims have been afforded this opportunity as a result of legislation approved by the United States Congress which provides an avenue for the pursuit of justice through the United States court system.

Through an exception in the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), immunity from prosecution is lifted against those states which have been declared State Sponsors of Terrorism by the United States Department of State. By lifting this immunity, victims and their family members (mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, spouse and children) may now bring these terrorist-sponsoring nations into Federal Court and require them to answer for their actions in supporting terrorism and terrorist attacks.

In 2000, when we first began considering the bringing of lawsuits on behalf of American victims of terrorism, we found that there were seven countries on the Department of State Sponsors of Terrorism list:  Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba. During the administration of President George W. Bush, the list was shortened. Iraq was removed first. Libya was then removed after entering into an agreement with the United States which called for the Libyan government to compensate victims of claimed Libyan-sponsored terrorism. Terms of the Libya Claims Settlement Agreement required Libya to deposit $1.5 billion dollars into the Treasury of the United States for the benefit of the victims. In turn, the US government agreed to distribute these funds to American victims of Libyan terrorism, much of which has already been disbursed. At the present time, claims are in the final stages of review and processing.

While the Libyan settlement involved a diplomatic outreach, it also was realized because of a confluence of efforts of the victims, their lawyers, the courts, the White House and the Congress. The courage of the victims to bring their claims to court and demand that Libya be held accountable for its sponsorship of terrorist organizations and heinous acts of terror was instrumental in achieving the settlement resulting in the victims and their families receiving their much-deserved compensation.

Today, although three of the original countries named on the State Department List of State Sponsors of Terrorism have been removed, four rogue nations remain: Syria, Iran, Sudan and Cuba. Litigation continues in the pursuit of justice against these nations. Obtaining a judgment is only the first step in attempting to seek justice. Collection of these judgments is a long and arduous process. Once a judgment is obtained against a State Sponsor of Terrorism, collection efforts begin with a search for assets and commencement of the legal process to attach those assets being held in the United States. While it is surprising to some, there are indeed assets which remain in the United States and the attachment of these assets have caused states such as the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran to take serious note of US court actions.

Bringing actions against State Sponsors of Terror is not only possible but serves as an important tool in seeking justice for victims of terror.

In tomorrow’s blog post, we’ll deal more with Syria and the ongoing tragedy where more than 100,000 people have lost their lives at the hands of the Assad regime.  The Syrian Arab Republic has been on the State Department List of State Sponsors of Terror since 1979 and remains a sponsor of Hezbollah (based in Lebanon) and Hamas (based in Gaza).

The dangerous neighborhood of the current Middle East remains explosive.

*Editorial original published in The Louis D. Brandeis Center  • August 19, 2013

Copyright © 2013 · Richard D. Heideman. All Rights Reserved.

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